You Were Never Really Here, Glasgow Film Festival 2018 review by Pat Byrne

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‘You Were Never Really Here’, Directed by Lynne Ramsay is based on the novella of the same name written by American author Jonathon Ames. The film, albeit in an unfinished form, was acclaimed at Cannes Film Festival 2017. It stars Joaquin Phoenix in the role of the anti-hero Joe, a former soldier now working as a contract killer. Joe is no slick private investigator but a disturbed man fantasising about suicide and hallucinating about childhood abuse in the house where he lives with his elderly mother.

The plot concerns Joe’s being hired by a politician Senator Votto (Alex Manette) to find his teenage daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), who has been kidnapped and placed in a paedophile style brothel. The sequence where Joe goes to find the daughter is shot in CCTV footage and is stark, violent and frightening – Joe’s plodding walk is barely interrupted as he metes out punishment to the bad guys with a hammer.

Having identified and rescued Nina things start to go wrong and he is somersaulted into a political conspiracy. I was not absolutely clear what was going on but Ramsay’s film if far from plot driven and the character of Joe is the focus of the film. Joaquin Phoenix gives an amazing performance and his bearded, bulky presence is what drives this film. It’s pretty miraculous that you find yourself routing for, and empathising with, this ultra-violent unstable hit man.

I wasn’t always sure what was happening with the flash backs and hallucinations and it’s a film that I wouldn’t mind seeing again just for clarification. I was lucky to have Alistair Braidwood from ScotsWhayHae! was sitting beside me and he clarified a point for me. We were both knocked out by the film, any questions thrown up didn’t stand in the way of this being a highly impressive film and I’m pretty sure it will prompt much discussion.   It’s no straightforward revenge movie nor conspiracy thriller. It is to be applauded for its avoidance of cliche including Joe, complete with his proclivity for brutality, the one who is after all carrying hope. The low key tenderness and respect he affords the damaged young woman is well delivered and the notion that he and Nina are holding out against the truly evil is suggested rather than shoved in the audience’s face.

Another side of Joe’s character is shown in a psycho like improvisation where he mimes stabbing his lovable but irritating old mother. (Apparently it cost £30,000 for the right to replicate this scene and Ramsay included it twice – I guess because it worked so very well.)

Soundtracking with Edith Bowman and Lynne Ramsay

soundtracking 2

There are some really memorable scenes in ‘You Were Never Really Here’, including street scenes, including where Joe photographs some young female tourists. I went along to the Glasgow Film Festival Event Soundtracking Edith Bowman with Lynne Ramsay and it was fascinating to hear about the relationship that grew between Ramsay and Phoenix. How he turned up ‘incredibly early’ in New York, where the film was being shot, and how he looked so unlike a Hollywood Star that it was possible for the pair to freely roam the streets.

Ramsay explained how with ‘freedom to improvise’ Joaquin Phoenix ‘brought the character of Joe to life’. I got the impression that a creative bond was quickly formed between the pair. Despite a slight hitch with Joaquin’s ear adjusting to Lynne Ramsay’s Glasgow accent, the outcome of this pairing resulted in an amazing performance by Joaquin Phoenix and the emergence of Joe as a fascinating and unforgettable screen character.

The film score was created by Jonny Greenwood, the talented Radiohead guitarist with whom Ramsay has previously collaborated on the score for her film ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’. Just how effective and crucial to the mood of the film the score is was demostrated when Edith Bowman screened sections with and without the music. Original tracks were also used, some of which were nothing short of inspirational, including – version of Angel Baby (1961) Rosie and the Originals – its innocence contrasting with the violence taking plaee in the sordid child brothel.

Ramsay is committed and totally involved in every aspect of her film making – her generous appreciation of the actors and musicians involved makes it very much a team project.

She name checked many of those involved in making the movie including ‘the brilliant editor Joe Bini’, the actor Judith Roberts, aged 84, who ‘is wonderful, doesn’t give a shit, just enjoys herself and is up for an award’. She mentioned many others, whose name I didn’t catch, including the ‘fabulous props guy’. I would say Ramsay’s approach with her creativity and technical know how married to a truly collaborative mindset is intrinsic to her succss as a film-maker.

Trailer – You Were Never Really Here

Release of Soundtrack – You Were Never Really Here – Jonny Greenwood

Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood announces release of Soundtrack You Were Never Really Here

Album Track List

To be released 9 March, 2018

1. Tree Synthesisers (4:25)
2. Sandy’s Necklace (3:47)
3. Nausea (1:49)
4. Hammer and Tape (1:22)
5. Brothel (Bass Clarinet) (3:47)
6. The Hunt (3:23)
7. Dark Streets (1:52)
8. Ywnrh (3:56)
9. Nina Through Glass (3:22)
10. Votto (4:01)
11. Dark Streets (Reprise) (1:53)
12. Downstairs (0:50)
13. Joe’s Drive (1:23)
14. Tree Strings (5:10)

The Skinny Interview with Lynne Ramsay by  Ian Mantgani

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, GFT
Mount Florida Screenings, CCA Glasgow

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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